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Forensic anthropology is often referred to as the application of the science of physical anthropology to the legal process. These scientists have the necessary skills in osetology as well as human anatomy. These essential skills in osetology and human anatomy are significant in providing an anthropological profile but also establishing identity as well as contributing to data on skeletal trauma and pathology which in turn helps to reconstruct the mechanism of death (Dirkmaat, 2008)
It is not only important for humanitarian and legal purposes that identification of human remains is determined. The process of applying physical anthropological techniques to crime scenes has other benefits other than just human identification purposes.Â Biological anthropologist along with other specialised professions such as forensic pathologists and odontologists to name a few can bring together both the skills of the different professions to assist in the forensic investigation.Â
One of the first jobs in hand for a forensic anthropologist when called upon at a scene of crime is to eliminate whether the remains found are animal, human or some form of inorganic material. This job can only really be undertaken by someone with extensive knowledge in this area therefore many investigators understand the complexity of sorting many different types of bones/materials and call upon the forensic anthropologist for expertise. Once the forensic anthropologist has determined whether the remains found are indeed of a human the next skills which prove so valuable for the investigator are giving more of an insight into that individual (Ubelaker, 2009).
Anthropologists are able to look at skeletal remains and give an appropriate determination of age, sex, ancestry and stature of that individual from just the remains. This is useful to build a picture up of the individual if no records are held of that particular person it also provides a useful tool for forensic investigators to work with in order to build a profiling of the person in question in order to find the immediate family and the circumstances around the death of that individual. In conjunction with providing a profile of that individual it is also potentially valuable in helping investigators to make for example, a facial reconstruction which can be used by the investigators to find witnesses or the last known where abouts of that decease individual.
Wilkinson, 2010 states that facial anthropology is the interpretation of human remains to attempt to depict the face of the individual. It is a significant tool that considerably enhances the chances of identification of a deceased individual. After major disasters it can become particularly difficult to recognize due to the decomposition or environmental effect, clothing and personal items may be lost and dental records unavailable (Wilkinson, 2010).
When a mass disaster arises the usual accepted methods of identification are often unsuitable and the importance of unusual and less definitive methods of identification has been recognized. The techniques of facial reconstruction can assist in the resolution of many stalemates within identification investigations (Wilkinson, 2006).
Facial reconstruction is generally the last option in forensic investigation when other lines of enquiry such as crime scene clues, missing person files and dental record assessment, may have already been pursued with limited success. When this is combined with a publicity campaign, facial reconstruction from skeletal remains may lead to recognition by a member of the public and hence lead to the identification of that individual (Clement & Randon, 1997).
The scene in which the anthropologist works in can also give valuable clues which would not necessarily be picked up by the investigator. Most burial sites have hidden evidence to demonstrate the time period of that scene some examples of this can be seen when analysing the body it might be surrounded by nails or arrow points which could show signs of a coffin which would mean this individual was probably not a victim of a crime. Also depending on the evidence left at the scene can indicate a pre-historical, historical or present death (Ubelaker, 2009).
Although the main objective of the anthropologist is to determine the identification of individuals found.Â Many other valuable skills are brought to the scene such as the expertise in the type and size of weapons used to enforce blunt force trauma and the estimated blows used to inflict this damage all of this can be revealed by examining the damage on the bones
Anthropologists can aid in the elimination of evidence of foul play around a potential forensic site. As well as determining the post-mortem interval it must be remembered that the forensic pathologist is the main person who determines the cause and manner of death.
Ubelaker, 2009 discusses the main reason why anthropologist prove so beneficial is the years of experience dealing with human remains and the extensive research in the area most anthropologist have vast qualification and years of study to progress to this level.Â Among all of this they have knowledge in the area of human anatomy of varying cultural populations (Ubelaker, 2009).
Throughout the anthropologist years of training they would have potentially worked along side many professional bodies such as the police forces. This would have helped them to obtain many skills within the different fields such as dealing with firearms, tool marks identification, Serology and toxicology as well as handling of evidence to name a few.
The anthropologist also uses osteological analysis which analyses the bones found at excavation sites to contribute to the identification of the individual from the skeletal remains. The anthropologist most advantageous skills out of all the ones mentioned would be finding slight discrepancies within the human skeleton whether that is subtle variation or bone defects. It could easily go a miss if these skeletons were analysed by anyone other than a trained anthropologist an example of this could be most skeletons possess in total 206 bones but it has been seen that some skeletons do not always possess this total as no two skeletons are alike (Ubelaker, 2009).
When applying this in a forensic context it could be argued that an investigator could miss these vital details and conclude that not all parts of the skeleton were present when in fact when it is put down to it that individual did possess all the bones it was just this particular individual did not possess the stereotypical number of bones in the human body.
These unique traits can often prove very valuable especially when used for positive identification of individuals. It must be briefly mentioned the use of skeletal identification when talking about the anthropologists role in forensic applications. The most common used identification method is comparing before and after death dental photos if these are not present then old skeletal injuries or anatomical skeletal alternatives are used instead.
Not only are anthropologists concerned with the human remains found at a scene they are also called upon to help in the excavation methods such as mapping obviously the main professional who deals with this is the forensic archaeologist but both professional bodies work very closely hand in hand to determine the best way to excavate a body without causing damage to remains or loss of evidence to the scene.
Anthropologists offer expertise to many professional bodies such as police forces, coroners and medical examiners to name a few. Their expertise has often been called upon to give evidence in court to explain the findings, affirming their professional opinion on the identity of the individual and whether there was presence of bone trauma.
Forensic anthropology manly concerns itself with the identification of human remains. It has adapted from the application of techniques originating from biological anthropology and applied in a forensic context. It does however diverge essentially from forensic science, forensic archaeology and forensic pathology.
Another measure of the growing status of forensic anthropology is that its practioners have been called upon to provide expertise in matters of international concern such as mass graves (Ischan, 1988).
Brinkmann, 2007 discusses that the number of scientists working in the field of forensic anthropology and the degree of international assistance between the various groups are increasing. There are international attempts at consistency and quality assessment of the techniques and the methodologies. Therefore in the future it is hoped forensic anthropology will play an even more important role in explanation of acts of crime (Brinkmann, 2007).
Kahana et al, 2009 stated that when a mass disaster takes place it often renders the victims in fragmentary conditions or badly decomposed bodies therefore anthropologist are able to use their extensive knowledge of various search procedures and apply it to that specific incident.
Other ways in which the anthropologists can contribute to the investigation processes is recognizing taphonomic changes which affect the remains and evidence. The anthropologist will be able to observe these taphonomic processes to see how plant, animal or human remains accumulate and preserved in an archaeological site. This can show whether these remains are associated with human activity. As well as this, taphonomic changes can alter biological remains after they are deposited at a site.
Dirkmaat, 2008 states that taphonomy has considerably changed forensic anthropology. The need for obtaining appropriate data for proper taphonomic interpretation has been a leading force in transforming forensic anthropology from a laboratory based subject into a scientific discipline with a strong field component. Taphonomic analysis has allowed forensic anthropologists to mature into forensic professionals with a definite and irreplaceable role not limited to laboratory work analyzing skeletal remains but also during regular crime scene investigations.
Nowadays forensic anthropologist can no longer be considered forensic 'sidekicks' who may be useful advisors when law enforcement or forensic pathologist step into an unusual case or situation but the most appropriate and most logical first choice professionals in cases involving all manner of outdoor crime scenes and commingled or severely altered human remains (Dirkmaat, 2008).
Anthropology and the use of these specialized techniques are among the most advancing areas of forensic sciences. Many aspects of humans extant or extinct have been subjects of the discipline. Ischan, 2001 states the diversity and contributions that many emerging scientists can make to a forensic case analysis. Ischan paper on the 21st century of Forensic Anthropology demonstrates how anthropology has evolved and now involves many advanced branches of study such as facial feature analysis such as facial reconstruction, estimations of time since death, skull colour and diabetes, trauma and taphonomy as well as research on animal's attacks on human remains and decomposition rates (Ischan, 2001).Â
Ischan, 2010 discusses that even though forensic anthropology has made immense progress as an applied discipline it cannot be separated from its roots in the theoretical foundations of physical anthropology. It can however be seen that the emergence of this field has begun to affect research directions in physical anthropology itself.Â It is clear to see that paleodemographic assessment has been vastly improved as a result of techniques developed predominantly for forensic applications.
The advancement of forensic anthropology can be dependent upon the improvement of older techniques and creation of newer ones from research approached in tradition scientific fashion rather than on a case by case basis.
The existing work is intended to highlight some of the developments and problems in forensic anthropology. The discipline continues to be identified as an applied extension of physical anthropology; this specialty has become well-established as a well-defined discipline within another area, the forensic sciences (Ischan, 2010).
It is clear to see that without the help of forensic anthropologist many investigations would have been left unsolved. It is thanks to forensic anthropologist that we can now see remarkable break through in techniques and quicker resolution of crime investigations.
Brinkmann, B., 2007. Forensic Anthropology. International Journal of Legal Medicine. 121. pp 431-432.
Clement JG, Ranson DL (1997) Craniofacial Identification Forensic Medicine. Sydney: Arnold Publishers.
Dirkmaat, D.C., Cabo, L.L., Ousley, S.D., and Symes, S.A., 2008. New Perspectives in Forensic Anthropology. Forensic Science. USA. Physical Anthropology. 51. pp 33-52.
Mann, R.W., & Ubelaker, D.H., 2009. The Forensic Anthropologist. Death investigation anthropology. FBI Law enforcement. Available at: http://www.crimeandclues.com/index.php/death-investigation/66-anthropology/108-the-forensic-anthropologist [Accessed: 17th February 2010]
Ischan, M.Y., 1988. Rise of Forensic Anthropology. Departments of Anthropology. Florida: USA. 31,. pp. 203-230.
Ischan, M.Y, 2001. Global Forensic Anthropology in the 21st Century. Forensic Science International. 117. pp 1-6.
Kahana, Tzupi & Hiss., 2009. The Role of the Forensic Anthropology In Mass fatality Incident Management., Forensic Science Policy & Management: An international Journal, 1:3, pp 144-149.
Wilkinson CM (2006) Facial anthropology and reconstruction. In Forensic Human Identification (eds Thompson TJK, Black S), Chapter 7, pp. 231-256, Boca Ratan: CRC Press.